How to Make the Perfect Fruit Cake

Everyone knows the perfect fruit cake is deeply spiced, full of surprises and ideal after dinner with a fresh cup of tea. But it’s hard to find one that we can all agree on. And whose perfect fruit cake are we talking about here, anyway?

Yours. So here’s a guide to making your perfect fruit cake. How to add your own flavourings without losing density, what fruit to swap, even new flavours to add. If you’ve been recreating Gran’s rock-hard Christmas Cake every year since 1979, it’s time to make it your own…

Making Your Perfect Fruit Cake

The amounts given here are to be used as a guide; feel free to choose your own fruit and spices. Daughter who hates raisins? Husband who doesn’t drink? Pick and mix from the ingredients below, and create a cake that’s perfect for your family.

Planning Ahead

Your fruit cake will benefit from being made early. Some writers suggest making it 8 weeks ahead of serving; others claim fruit cake will keep and improve for up to a year!

The Cake Batter

Delia, Nigella, Gary and Nigel agree on numbers: use equal amounts of flour, butter, and brown sugar, and balance with an egg to every 50g (2oz) butter. For an 8″ cake, you’d use 225g (8oz) each of flour, butter and sugar, with 4 eggs. A tablespoon of treacle heightens the dense, rich sweetness. Tamper with these minimums at your peril: the cake batter must be sturdy enough to support the weight of fruit and nuts, and skimping on flour in hope of a lighter result will result in a cake where fruit has sunk to the bottom.

Sometimes extra flour is added to balance out a liquid ingredient such as marmalade or fresh orange juice. Look at the mixture when you dollop the mixture into the tin: it should be the consistency of clotted cream, slowly dropping from the spoon.

The quality of your ingredients will, as always, dictate the deliciousness of the finished result. Choose organic butter and flour for the finest flavour; free-range eggs and unrefined sugar are widely accepted as standard these days.

The Flavourings

You can choose from an assortment of traditional spices, such as ground cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, or bottled Mixed Spice. One teaspoon will be enough to flavour your cake. Next add orange and lemon zest (from two fruits – one of each or two of the same), and (optional) a splash of almond or vanilla extract. Finally, if you wish to use liquid additions such as marmalade or orange juice, then you should balance out the mixture with a little more flour (about an ounce per tablespoon of liquid).

The Fruit

What fruit? The choices are yours. You’ll need a total of 900g (2lb) of dried fruit for an 8″ cake. Take your pick from sultanas, raisins, candied peel, glace cherries, currants, dried apricots, dates, cranberries, dried pineapple, and dried papaya. Give your cake a uniquely exotic theme by using dried pineapple and papaya (available in health food shops). Swap dates for apricots and candied peel for cranberries… the possibilities are endless.

If you’ve time to marinade your fruit in rum, brandy, or other liqueur (how about Tia Maria, Malibu, or Schnapps?), so much the better. Stir 3 tablespoons liqueur into 900g (2lb) fruit and leave in a covered bowl overnight, before commencing the recipe.

If you’d like to add nuts to your cake for extra crunch, add 50g (2oz) of your favourites, roughly chopped, at the same time as you add the fruit.

To Make It

Let all ingredients come to room temperature, including the fruit, if you haven’t marinated it overnight. Cream the butter and sugar, then whisk in the eggs until the mixture is glossy. Sift the flour, salt (half a teaspoon) and spices onto this mixture, and fold gently with a metal spoon (this keeps more air in the mixture than a wooden spoon). Finally stir in the fruit, nuts, a tablespoon of treacle, and any extra flavourings you’ve chosen (including marmalade, juice and essence).

Cooking and Storing

Bake at 140ºC (275 Fahrenheit, gas mark 1) for about 4 hours. Fruit cakes take a long time to cook, so it’s advisable to protect yours from blackening on the outside before the middle is cooked. To overcome this dilemma, Nigella and Gary Rhodes both suggest double-lining your cake tin with brown paper, and leaving a tall rim sticking above the top of the tin will stop the top of your cake from cooking too fast. Delia also covers the top of the cake with a double layer of baking parchment (cutting a small hole in the centre to let out steam).

Wrap your cooled cake tightly in greaseproof paper and then foil – avoid wrapping directly in foil, which might react with the acid in the cake – and store in an airtight tin, if you’ve got one. Your old Tupperware isn’t ideal for fruit cakes because it takes on aroma too easily , but brand new Tupperware will be suitable.

If you wish to add extra alcohol to the cake, you can do this every week or so until it’s ready. Simply peel away the wrappings, pierce the cake with a skewer and drizzle a tablespoon of liqueur over the top. Enjoy making your perfect fruit cake, and don’t forget to send us a slice!

Decorating ideas

You may wish to decorate your fruit cake for Christmas or another special occasion, so read our feature Decorating Your Christmas Cakes to make it a real centre-piece!

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